The Background of Paul's View of the Law
Paul's View of the Law
A Look at Some Misunderstood Texts
A Look - Continued
A Look - Continued
A Look - Continued
The Law and the Gentiles
The Immediate Context of Romans 10:4.
Badenas provides a convenient, concise summary of Paul’s argument in Romans 9:30-33. He writes; "Paul presents the failure of Israel in the fact that it did not recognize from Scriptures (eis nomon ouk ephthasen—did not attain to the Law—Rom 9:31) Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, the goal and substance and meaning of the Law. Looking at the Torah [Mosaic Law] from the human perspective—as a code primarily interested in human performance—Israel overlooked the importance of looking at it from the perspective of God’s saving acts and mercy. Having failed to take their own Law seriously in that particular respect, they did not see that God’s promises had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, Israel’s misunderstanding of Torah [Mosaic Law] is presented by Paul as blindness to the Law’s witness to Christ (cf. Rom 9:31-33 with 10:4-13 and 3:21) which was epitomized in Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah."68
It is important to note that in the immediate context, Paul is not disparaging the Law but is criticizing its improper use as a way to attain one’s own righteousness. The Jews were extremely zealous for God, but their zeal was not based on knowledge (Rom 10:2). Being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, many Jews tried "to establish their own righteousness" (Rom 10:3).
The problem with the Jews was not the Law, but their misunderstanding and misuse of it. They did not attain to the righteousness promised by the Law because they misunderstood it and transformed it into a tool of personal achievement (Rom 10:2-3, 5; 2:17, 27; 3:27; 4:2). They insisted on establishing their own righteousness (Rom 10:3) rather than accepting the righteousness that had been revealed by God through Moses in the Law. They did not see that the righteousness of God had been revealed especially through the coming of the promised Messiah. They looked at the Law in order to see what a person could do to become righteous before God instead of recognizing what God had already done for them through Jesus Christ. They failed to recognize that Christ is the goal of the Law, as Paul says in verse 4.
Romans 10:4: Goal or Termination?
In Greek, the key sentence reads "telos nomou Christos," which literally translated means "The goal of Law [is] Christ." The structure of the sentence with telos nomou at the beginning indicates that Paul is making a statement about the Law rather than about Christ. The Law (nomos) has been the center of Paul’s discussion since Romans 9:6, and particularly since Romans 9:31,where he speaks of nomos dikaiosunes—the Law of righteousness, that is, the Law that holds forth the promise of righteousness.
Note must be taken of the fact that in the immediate context, Paul does not speak of the Law and Christ as standing in an antagonistic relationship. In Romans 9:31-33 he explains that, had the Jews believed in Christ ("the stone"), they would certainly have "attained" the Law which promises righteousness. Consequently, in the light of the immediate context, it is more consistent to take the Law—nomos as bearing witness to Christ rather than as being abrogated by Christ. The abrogation interpretation ("Christ has put an end to the Law") disrupts Paul’s flow of thought, works against his main argument, and would have been confusing to his readers in Rome accustomed to use telos with the sense of "goal" rather than "termination."
The athletic metaphors used in the immediate context (Rom 9:30-33) also suggest that telos is used with the meaning of "goal," because telos was one of the terms commonly used to denote the winning-post or the finish line. Other athletic terms used by Paul are diokon (Rom 9:30-31), which denotes the earnest pursuit of a goal; katelaben (Rom 9:30), which describes the attaining of a goal; ouk ephthasen (Rom 9:31), which refers to the stumbling over an obstacle in a race; and kataiskuno (Rom 9:33), which expresses the disappointment and shame of the defeat.
The implications of the athletic metaphors are well stated by Badenas: "If by accepting Christ the Gentiles reached the winning-post of dikaiosune [righteousness] and, thereby, acceptance within the new people of God (Rom 9:30), and by rejecting Christ Israel did not reach the goal of the Law and thereby admission into God’s new people, the logical conclusion is what Romans 10:4 says: that the goal of the Law and the winning-post of dikaiosune [righteousness] and entrance into God’s eschatological people are to be found nowhere else than in Christ."69
The Qualifying Clause: "For Righteousness . . ."
This interpretation harmonizes well with the context, and contributes to the understanding of such important elements in the context as "the word of God has not failed" (Rom 9:6), the Gentiles attained righteousness (Rom 9:30), Israel did not "attain" to the Law (Rom 9:31) but stumbled over the stone (Rom 9:33), and ignored God’s righteousness (Rom 10:2-3). All these major themes fit if Romans 10:4 is understood in the sense that the Law, in its promise of righteousness to whoever believes, pointed to Christ.
The abrogation interpretation that "Christ has put an end to the Law as a way of righteousness by bringing righteousness to anyone who will believe," interrupts the flow of the argument and works against it. The same is true of the interpretation which says "Christ has put an end to the Law in order that righteousness based on faith alone may be available to all men." The problem with these interpretations is that they wrongly assume that, prior to Christ’s coming, righteousness was obtainable through the Law and that the Law was an insurmountable obstacle to the exercise of righteousness by faith, and, consequently, it was removed by Christ.
The assumption that Christ put an end to the Law as a way of salvation is discredited by the fact that, in Paul’s view, salvation never did come or could come by the Law (Gal 2:21; 3:21). In Romans 4, Abraham and other Old Testament righteous people were saved by faith in Christ (cf. Rom 9:30-33). The rock that Israel stumbled over was Christ (Rom 9:33; cf. 1 Cor 10:4). Paul explicitly says that the Law was not an obstacle to God’s righteousness, but a witness to it (Rom 9:31; 3:21, 31).
Another important point to consider is that the key to understanding Romans 10:4 may to be found in the proper comprehension of the last words of the text— "to everyone who believes." This is the view of George Howard who notes that this is the theme of the inclusion of the Gentiles which dominates the immediate context. He writes: "The Jews based their salvation on the fact that they had the Law, the fathers, and all the blessings which go with these. Their extreme hostility to the Gentiles (1 Thess 2:15-16) had caused them to miss the point of the Law itself, that is, that its very aim and goal was the ultimate unification of all nations under the God of Abraham according to the promise. In this sense Christ is the telos [goal] of the Law; he was its goal to everyone who believes."70
In the light of the preceding considerations, we conclude that Romans 10:4 represents the logical continuation and culmination of the argument initiated in Romans 9:30-33, namely, that Christ is the goal of the Law because He embodies the righteousness promised by the Law for everyone who believes. This is the righteousness which the Gentiles attained by faith and which most Jews rejected because they chose to establish their own righteousness (Rom 10:3) rather than accept the righteousness the Law pointed to and promised through Jesus Christ. Thus, far from declaring the abrogation of the Law with the coming of Christ, Romans 10:4 affirms the realization of the goal of the Law in Christ who offers righteousness to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:5-8: The Obedience of Faith.
Romans 10:5-8 reads: "For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on the Law shall live by it [quote from Lev 18:5]. But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend to heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach)" [paraphrase of Deut 30:12-14].
The principal problem with these verses is in establishing the relationship between the quotation of Leviticus 18:5 in Romans 10:5 and the quotation of Deuteronomy 30:12-14 in Romans 10:6-8. Are the two quotations intended to present two complementary aspects of righteousness or two conflicting ways of righteousness? The common interpretation assumes that the two quotations are used by Paul to contrast two ways of righteousness: the righteousness by works of the Law as taught in Leviticus 18:5 and the righteousness by faith as taught in Deuteronomy 30:12-14. The former would represent the Jewish way of righteousness based on human obedience and the latter the righteousness of divine grace offered by faith.
This popular interpretation rests on two mistaken assumptions. The first is that the two particles "gar—for . . . de—but," which are used to introduce verses 5 and 6, respectively, serve to contrast the two types of righteousness. "For Moses writes . . . but the righteousness of faith says . . . ." This assumption is wrong because the Greek word translated "but" in verse 6 is de and not alla. The particle de is frequently translated as "and" without any contrast intended, while alla is consistently translated as "but" because it serves to make a contrast. George Howard clearly and convincingly points out that "gar . . . de do not mean "for . . . but," but as in Romans 7:8-9; 10:10; 11:15-16, they mean "for . . . and."71 In other words, in this context Paul uses this set of particles not in an adversative way but in a connective way, to complement two aspects of righteousness.
One Kind of Righteousness.
In their original contexts, both quotations say essentially the same thing, namely, that the Israelites must observe God’s commandments in order to continue to enjoy the blessings of life. In Leviticus 18:5, Moses admonishes the Israelites not to follow the ways of the heathen nations, but to keep God’s "statutes and ordinances" in order to perpetuate the life God had given them. Similarly, in Deuteronomy 30:11-16, Moses tells the Israelites "to obey the commandments of the Lord" because they are not hard to observe, and ensure the blessings of life ("then you shall live and multiply"—Deut 30:16).
Some argue that Paul took the liberty of misinterpreting Deuteronomy 30:11-14 in order to support his teachings of righteousness by faith. But had Paul done such a thing, he would have exposed himself to the legitimate criticism of his enemies who would have accused him of misinterpreting Scripture. Furthermore, neither Paul nor any Bible writer sets Moses against Moses or against any other biblical statement. It was not the custom of Paul to seek out contradictions in the Scripture or to quote the Old Testament to show that one of its statements was no longer valid. The fact that Paul quoted Deuteronomy 30:12-14 immediately after Leviticus 18:5 suggests that he viewed the two passages as complementary and not contradictory.
The complementary function of the two quotations is not difficult to see. In Romans 10:4 Paul affirms that Christ is the goal of the Law in offering righteousness to everyone who believes. In verse 5, he continues (note "for—gar") expanding what this means by quoting Leviticus 18:5 as a summary expression of the righteousness of the Law—namely, that "whoever follows the way of righteousness taught by the Law shall live by it." This fundamental truth had been misconstrued by the Pharisees who made the Law so hard to observe that, to use the words of Peter, it became a "yoke upon the neck" that nobody could bear (Acts 15:10). Paul clarifies this misconception in verses 6 to 8 by paraphrasing Deuteronomy 30:12-14 immediately after Leviticus 18:5 in order to show that God’s Law is not hard to observe, as the Pharisees had made it to be. All it takes to obey God’s commandments is a heart response: "The word is near to you, on your lips and in your heart" (Rom 10:8).
Daniel Fuller rightly observes that "by paraphrasing Deuteronomy 30:11-14 right after a verse spotlighting the righteousness of the Law which Moses taught [Lev 18:5], and by affirming this paraphrase of Moses which inserts the word ‘Christ’ at crucial points, Paul was showing that the righteousness set forth by the Law was the righteousness of faith. Since the wording of the Law can be replaced by the word ‘Christ’ with no loss of meaning, Paul has demonstrated that Moses himself taught that Christ and the Law are one piece. Either one or both will impart righteousness to all who believe, and thus the affirmation of Romans 10:4 [that ‘Christ is the goal of the Law’] is supported by Paul’s reference to Moses in verses 5-8."72
What Paul wishes to show in Romans 10:6-8 is that the righteousness required by the Law in order to live (Lev 18:5) does not necessitate a superhuman achievement, like climbing into heaven or descending into the abyss. This was Paul’s way of expressing the impossible task the Jews wanted to accomplish through their own efforts. By contrast, the righteousness required by the Law is fulfilled through the Word which is in the heart and in the mouth, that is, by believing and confessing the Lord (Rom 10:10).
The reference to the nearness of the Word in Deuteronomy 30:14 permitted Paul to link the divine grace made available by God in the Law with the divine grace made available by God in Christ, the Word. His commentary on Deuteronomy 30:14 clearly shows that he understood Christ to be the substance and content of both the Law and the Gospel. Because of the unity that exists between the two, he could identify the word of the Law (Deut 30:14) with the word of the Gospel (Rom 10:8-9).
The recognition of the unity between Law and Gospel leads Walter Kaiser to pose a probing rhetorical question: "What will it take for modern Christians to see that Moses, in the same way that the apostle Paul, advocated, wanted Israel to ‘believe unto righteousness’ (Rom 10:10; cf. Deut 30:14)? . . . Both Moses and Paul are in basic agreement that the life being offered to Israel, both in those olden days and now in the Christian era, was available and close at hand; in fact it was so near them that it was in their mouth and in their hearts."73 It is unfortunate that so many Christians fail to recognize this basic unity that exists between the Law and the Gospel, Moses and Paul, both affirming that Christ is the goal and culmination of the Law in its promise of righteousness to everyone who believes.
Chapter 5, Part 3c
Chapter 5, Part 4
Notes to Chapter 5, Part 3d
Written by: Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University